Babe's Bulky Production Wheel

I hesitate to call this a review, because that implies that I've passed judgement on this wheel, which I haven't.  I just have mixed feelings about it. So I wanted to spin some bulkier yarns and some beaded yarns. I learned the hard way that add-ins and bulky yarn could get caught up in the orifice of my Ashford Traditional wheel, so for Christmas my awesome Granny gave me an Ashford Jumbo Flyer Kit which has a larger orifice and bobbins. Well, that didn't work either because my ancient Traditional drive wheel wouldn't line up right with the whorl on the brand new jumbo flyer. Which is a really convoluted and jargon-y way of saying, 'Mama needs a bulky wheel.'

So my hubby set a ridiculously high budget for me (knowing that I would never spend that much, because I'm cheap) and I started shopping around. I narrowed it down to the Ashford Country and the Babe Bulky Production with the help of this lovely video.

I have been drooling over her Ashford Country for months, but as pretty as those wheels are they only do thicker yarns and the cheapskate in me just rebels at the idea of paying hundreds of dollars for a wheel that only does one kind of yarn. The Babe Bulky Production Wheel is supposed to do everything from bulky to lace weight, and it still uses the enormous bobbins like the Ashford Country. So I called the place where we got the Jumbo Flyer and returned it for some store credit toward the Babe Bulky Production.

I got the wheel even faster than I expected to and assembled it within half an hour despite the extraordinarily badly written instructions. By badly written I mean so littered with grammatical errors and misspellings that I seriously considered rewriting them and sending them back to the company for the benefit of future customers. In spite of these instructions, I have to say it was fairly easy to put together. But there are a couple of things that I didn't quite understand. If anyone out there in fiber-land knows what these are please let me know. First there are two holes on each side of the base that don't seem to have a definite purpose. They might be there to fix the diagonal uprights, but there was nothing about them in the instructions so I have no way of knowing. Second, the horizontal support for the bobbin/flyer assembly doesn't quite sit flush on the diagonal uprights. I've seen some folks online who put some padding in between, and that's a okay fix I guess. There was also nothing in the instructions about fixing the diagonal uprights to the base. This maybe a conscious decision so that it's easier to take apart for travel, but the holes on the base and the extra space at the top of seems to suggest that there is something missing from the assembly instructions relating to these parts. More on this in a bit.

With these questions aside though, it was pretty easy to put together and it works pretty well. Some people have criticized the Babe wheels for not being very pretty and made of PVC instead of wood, but I actually kind of like the way it looks, and that's maybe because I'm seeing what I can make with it instead of seeing the object itself. I also know that a lot of folks, as mentioned in the video will paint or otherwise decorate their Babes and that sounds like fun.

I've been using it for a couple of weeks now and have spun yarn from sock weight to bulky. I've also done some core spun and some beaded yarn. Here's a break down of my feelings on it.

Things I love:

  • The large orifice (get your minds out of the gutter, it's a technical term): This wheel has a 3/4 inch orifice which makes spinning art yarns a dream. It's perfect for add-ins like beads and bits of fabric or little flowers. The only thing better would be a bypass-able orifice, but I'm not a fan of art yarn add-ins that are super huge, so I don't miss that.
  • The treadling: I was a little concerned switching from a single treadle wheel to a double treadle wheel, but this is so easy to treadle, and easily adjustable. the treadles attach to the base with velcro straps that can be adjusted if they are set too tight.
  • The enormous bobbin: I have yet to run out of space on these bobbins no matter how thick my yarn.
  • It travels: The shape, easy assembly and light material mean that it travels well so when I take the kids down for a week at Granny's or to spin with friends, it can go with me without too much trouble. A Saxony style wheel like my traditional is a pain to move.
  • The little velcro leader grabber: Not sure what the proper name is but each bobbin has a little velcro circle on it that you can easily use to attach your leader without having to tie a knot or anything. It's a small feature, but really good thinking on their part.
  • The velcro patch by the orifice: Another little bit of velcro sits right below the orifice to hold your yarn if you have to stop while you're spinning. As a mom it's rare that I get to sit down and spin a hank without stopping, so this comes in very handy.
  • The green-ness of it all: Very few of the parts for this wheel are specifically manufactured for a spinning wheel. with the exception of wooden flyer and the treadle assembly, everything else is re-purposed. The body is PVC, the wheel is a wheelchair wheel, the bobbins are wire spools. I love the idea that there are very few trees being cut down or factories with specialized equipment being run to create this. Most of these things are being made anyway. This is also how Babe's Fiber Garden can keep the cost of their wheels so much lower than most wheel makers.

Things I hate:

  • The lazy Kate: The lazy kate for this wheel consists of two dowels inserted into holes on the diagonal uprights. They don't turn very easily because of the larger heavier bobbins. This makes for difficult plying and lots of broken singles. I love the sort of zen feeling I get plying on my Ashford with the yarn just sliding through my fingers and twisting, not so with the Babe.
  • The peg that connects the bobbin to the whorl: Most of Babe's wheels seem to be bobbin led as opposed to the flyer led Ashford. This means that the whorl being turned by the drive band connects directly to the bobbin instead of to the flyer. The Babe wheel uses a wooden peg sticking out from the plastic whorl to fit into a hole in near the center of the bobbin. This is fine as long as it stays connected, but I have found that as your bobbin gets more full it tends to pull away and the whorl and bobbin can become disconnected leaving you treadling away to no effect. Also the peg is glued into a hole on the whorl, and after a couple of weeks of use, mine came unglued and the peg came out altogether. It's easy enough to fix by putting the peg back in and re-gluing it with some epoxy, but it's something that I don't think a couple of weeks of use (and that's not every day) should cause to happen. If this is a "production" whee, then it ought to be able to stand up to more use than that.
  • The diagonal cut on the flyer support: The orifice at the end of the flyer rests in a slot on the front piece of PVC which is cut at a diagonal. This is fine, but if you get a little too relaxed with where your hand is you can find your yarn rubbing up against this cut and it's sharp enough that if your yarn is thin it might actually cut some fibers. This can be fixed by sanding, but again should I have to be the one doing that?
  • The unattached diagonal uprights: As I mentioned before the diagonal upright supports on this wheel don't attach to the base or the flyer support, at least there wasn't anything in the instructions about attaching them. The result is, the support rests on the uprights and they rest on the base. I have found though, that after a lot of treadling and vibration these uprights can move and make even fall out of place or move too close to the wheel and rub the drive wheel. I really wish the instructions had some explanation of how these are supposed to be fixed or tips on how to keep them in place.

I said I didn't want to call this a review because I haven't passed judgement on the wheel. There are things I love and things I hate. Most of the things I hate are fixable, and I'm a DIY kinda gal, so they're not big deals. But I did notice when I was researching which wheel to buy that there weren't a lot of informative reviews. So, here's the information that I would have liked to have known. I still think I would have bought this wheel over the Ashford Country, but I hope I can offer some info for folks like me that want to make a more informed decision.

 

Cashmere, cashmere, cashmere

First let me start by saying that my parents are awesome for a million different reasons that I don't have space for in a blog post. But this Christmas one of the forms that said awesomeness took had to do with fiber. The Woolery, an excellent purveyor of all things fibery has a wishlist feature. So, when my mom asked what I wanted for Christmas, I pointed her to my wishlist at The Woolery. She wasn't able to find my wishlist, so she called them and put her gift budget in their very capable hands. What resulted was box of fiber that represented a sampler of almost everything they have to offer. There are several kinds of wool including Merino, alpaca, llama, angora, mohair, camel and cashmere. So, you will likely be seeing a posts about all of these fibers and what I'm choosing to do with them, but I thought I would start with cashmere It's a good thing that I got this as a gift, because at $20-$22/oz it's unlikely that I would have bought this fiber for myself (I'm cheap, remember.) I'm sooo glad though that I had the experience and if you're going to shell out that kind of dough for fiber, I can highly recommend the cashmere from The Woolery. It was a very high quality. You know when you go into a department store and see a sign for cashmere sweaters at some ridiculously low price and then you touch it and realize that the price isn't so ridiculous after all. This is not that cashmere. This stuff feels like heaven. It's so smooth and fine.

Since this was my first experience spinning cashmere, I decided not to blend it with anything, but to spin it by itself to get a feel for it. The carded roving drafts easily. Because the fibers are short, I recommend not treadling too fast or you'll lose your leader. But this fiber feels so good, you won't want to spin too fast, because 2 oz goes by quickly.

Cashmere varies in color from white to dark brown or medium gray. On their listing at The Woolery, they say the color is light brown although their picture looks sort of dishwater blonde. Thank goodness it's not that color. Honestly, seeing that picture next to that price would normally have turned me off, but mine was actually a very nice light woodsy brown with just a little bit of a sheen to it once it's spun.

I made about 140 yards of 2-ply sport weight yarn. I was pleasantly surprised at how much my yarn I got from my 2 oz of fiber. When I fulled it the twist seemed to tighten a little and the result is a very springy yarn.

Now I just need to figure out what I'm going to do with it. I could put the yarn in the shop to sell. Then again, it feels so good I might want to make a scarf just to keep my hands on it.

My spinning wheel comes full circle

I showed my Granny my spinning wheel, last week. I should point out that it was once her spinning wheel, although she never did learn to use it.  No one else in my family is terribly interested in the hows and whats of hand spinning. Don't get me wrong, they think it's cool. You should see my husband's face when he tells people I spin my own yarn. But if I go much further than, "look how soft this angora is" their eyes start to glaze over. I don't hold it against them. I get that way when they talk about video games or computer parts. But , with Granny it was a real treat to show my wheel and skills off to someone who knows a little about it, and at least understands why I love it. I should start with a little information about Granny. She is a very spry 94 and the healthiest, sharpest 94 year old you could ever meet. She also loves her family more than just about anything in the world. She grew up in a mill village in a small town in North Carolina, but my Granny never worked in the spinning room like so many girls of her generation. That was due to the determination of my great grandmother (the Original Granny). When most of the other girls in the village were dropping out of school at the ripe old age of twelve to go work in the mill, my great grandmother made sure that her children finished high school including her girls. So, when Granny graduated and went to work in the mill it was in the office, not on the floor.  My grandfather on the other hand dropped out of school at twelve and began working to help support his family. He knew how to do just about every job in the mill.  So, thirty years ago when my grandmother wanted a spinning wheel to spruce up her parlor, he wasn't going to buy her one that didn't work.

Flash forward thirty years and I've been drooling over spinning wheels and resisting shelling out $400+ for one in spite of my husbands repeated attempts to get me to buy one. I had settled on an Ashford Traditional and was just a few weeks away from ordering one, when I discovered Granny's wheel behind the sofa in the parlor. What do you know, it was an Ashford Traditional.  It was also in need of some reconditioning and repairs. So at Granny's urging I brought it home and got myself an Ashford Maintenance Kit and some wood conditioner and went to work. It only took a couple of hours to recon the wood and replace some of the hardware. A few Youtube videos and spinning books later, I was in business.

So just last week, I was finally able to show my Granny what I had learned.  So, I took the wheel up to my parents house where Granny was staying for the holiday and sat down to do two of my favorite things; spin and talk to Granny. I explained how the wheel worked and what parts I had replaced and then set to spinning. Granny was thrilled to see what I was able to do and naturally it sparked a lot of memories. She told me about how her mother used to load the warp for the looms, her aunt used to work in the spinning room and how my Grandad knew how to do almost every job in the mill. I told her about the different fibers and how each one spins differently.

I treasure those few hours in the mornings when I'm child free and able to do whatever I want. I usually reserve that time for writing. But that morning was one of the best I've had in a long time. I wouldn't trade it for anything.

Dyeing to try this

I'm always the kind of person who wants to drill down to the source on most things. So, naturally when I started spinning yarn, I wanted to know everything about the process from "sheep to shawl". It also means I'm willing to try just about any step in the process short of actually owning livestock. I'm not a future alpaca farmer, but I do plan to cultivate many of them as friends. So far in exploring all things spinning related I've spun a wool, angora and silk roving, and dyed wool with Koolaid. My next step was to try a more professional dye with a number of different fibers. At this year's Montpelier Fiber Festival I scored some delicious milk fiber, bamboo, and silk bells. I also had some brown, black and white roving that I got in a mill end bag from The Sheep Shed Studio. Armed with 2 ounces of each, my thrift store crockpot and a pack of Dylon fabric dye in Bahama Blue, I set about my experiment. I essentially did 2 dye lots in the same pot

I mixed the dye according to the instructions on the packet in my crockpot. This was super easy. This dye uses salt as a mordant. I used canning salt thinking that if it's strong enough for pickling then it must be strong enough for dyeing.

I put the wool and bamboo in first thinking that I would blend them together before spinning.  The instructions on the packet say to stir for 15 minutes, but I just tamped it down instead because I wanted to make sure there weren't any air bubbles, but I didn't want to mix them together while they were wet. I added more hot water to make sure it was well covered and that I would be able to cover the other fibers once I added them. I let this sit for about 25 minutes.

Meanwhile, I soaked my silk cap and 2 ounces of milk fiber. I knew I wanted these to be lighter so planned for them to spend less time in the dye. After 25 minutes I added these to the dye bath and made sure they were saturated. I left this for another 20 minutes before taking them out.

Milk Fiber

I really can't wait to spin this it is wonderfully soft and the color looks terrific. It seems to have taken the dye pretty well the color really pops.

 

 

 

Silk

The biggest factor in the color differences in the silk is that it's in cap or bell form. So the inside layers barely got any dye at all while the outside layers seemed to take it in a very subtle way. I like these variations a lo. I haven't spun silk in this form yet, so that will be another interesting adventure.

 

 

Bamboo

Every time I walk by the drying rack, this one catches my eye. The color is electric and the fiber is so soft. I had originally planned to blend this with the wool to make it softer and add some more dimension to the color, but I'm clearly going to have to come up with something else. This color is too good to let it be overpowered by the brown and black.

Wool

This one is interesting. I'm not unhappy with the color that the white wool took on. The brown and black maintained their color, which I expected. I wanted this to be brown black and blue, so I got the result I was looking for. Still, when you compare this blue to the blue of the other fibers it's just not as bright. I'm planning on spinning this into a nice slubby singles that will be blue, brown and black twisted together.

 

 

Passionate Stitches

The striking young woman in this photo is my great great aunt Mattie Verb Minga. That's right her middle name was Verb, and it fit. Aunt Matt was a woman of action, a woman of passion. Sometimes it lead her in the wrong direction like marrying and divorcing the same man twice. Sometimes it lead her to great joy. When Mattie was in her forties and single she adopted the infant child of a cousin who had died in childbirth. Everyone thought she was crazy, thought the boy would need a father, wondered how a single woman working in the mill could support a child. But she did it anyway, and my cousin Gene grew up to be a well respected policeman, veteran and a great father himself.

Our family was large and tight-knit, as families that spend several generations in the same small town usually are. Still Aunt Matt was at every family function. Christmas, summer trips to the beach, anytime we all got together, someone went over to the little house next to the old company store to fetch Aunt Matt. For some folks we might do that out of a sense of duty. My great grandmother, Mattie's sister, did ask my grandmother to take care of Mattie before she died. But the truth is it was because we loved having her around. She's been gone 23 years now, but I can still hear her gregarious laugh. She always had a way of finding things to laugh about, be happy about, even in her late eighties when she rarely left the house. I remember going with my grandmother to visit Aunt Matt in her little house in the mill village and sitting on the ottoman next to her chair and watching her crochet. She was so practiced that she sped through the stitches and rarely had to look down at her work. Even late in life when her health was waning, she never stopped making things.

Aunt Matt's hands were never idle. My grandmother's house is full of things that she made from a plarn (yes, 1960's plarn from bread bags) rug on the threshold in the kitchen to a lace canopy and bedspread on the double canopy bed upstairs. Every Christmas the stairs are lined with crocheted snowmen, and Santa Clause dolls and the tree is hung with lace snowflakes and angels that she made. When my children were born I was gifted with jackets and blankets and hats that I had worn as a child that were made by Aunt Matt and that I am keeping for my grandchildren. She didn't just crochet. Here is a photo of her working on a quilt that spent years on my parent's bed and that I'm sure my mother still has. Aunt Matt was always making something, and everything she made was a beautiful expression of the love that she had for the people around her and of her passion for life.

I've made a lot of really beautiful things in my years as a crafter, but I don't think I've ever been more proud of the work that I've done than I was at Aunt Matt's 90th birthday party, an event so big that we held it at the church. I had made a pillow out of yarn that my grandfather had brought home from his job at the NC State Textile Engineering dept. It was just a big white granny square tacked to a big white pillow, but it meant everything to me as a crocheter and it still does. Now, whenever I finish a project, I can almost feel Aunt Matt patting my hand and laughing with joy the way she always did when we did something she liked.

Sadly, my cousin Gene passed away last November and his bright beautiful daughter years before that. The little house by the company store belongs to someone else now as the mill village is becoming gentrified. There aren't very many of us who remember Aunt Matt, but the beauty of the things she made and the abundance of her work will show for generations.

*This is a re-post of an article I wrote for a now defunct blog about my craft business.

Fiber in the Blood

This grainy photo is one of the few that I have of my grandfather smiling. It's kind of odd, because with his grandchildren he was often joking and laughing. But he didn't care for having his picture taken. He wasn't much for crowds or meeting new people. What he was was a good hearted, incredibly strong and smart individual but he didn't broadcast it. He just was all of those things and more.
My grandad was a weaver. He started working in the Glen Royal textile mill at the ripe old age of 12, and worked in textiles most of his life. He worked his way up to being a weaver at the Royal mill and when the mill closed he found jobs at other mills and eventually worked in the Textiles School at NC State. He found a home there and worked there even part-time after his retirement. Having worked to support his mother and younger siblings through much of the depression, he was always thrifty and as the textile students experimented with spinning yarns of different materials and textures, Grandad salvaged most of that yarn the would otherwise have been tossed and brought it back to my Aunt Matt and others who would find uses for it. To this day my grandmother, mother and I have cones and cones of yarn that was saved in crazy colors or unexpected textures.
I am not a weaver, but I have always been fascinated by the workings of large looms, their speed and complexity. There can be something hypnotic and fascinating in a well woven fabric. That's something that I'm sure I come by honestly. I was lucky enough to have my Grandad until I was an adult, and I wish every day that my husband and children could know him. The many photos of him unsmiling or looking away from the camera just don't show the kind of open-hearted goodness that he spread to those of us who knew him. I still feel it every time I feel thread slide through my fingers.